Cambridge scientists use LEGO MINDSTORMS to build bone-making robots


March 15, 2012

Scientists at Cambridge University have built robots out of LEGO, to assist in their research into creating artificial bone

Scientists at Cambridge University have built robots out of LEGO, to assist in their research into creating artificial bone

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Despite what TV shows like CSI would have us believe, a lot of lab work tends to be highly monotonous. It’s the type of work that could be assigned to robots, were it not for the fact that many facilities can’t afford the things, or can’t rationalize bringing one in for a single project. When scientists at Cambridge University were recently faced with a very mindless, repetitive task that was part of their research into creating artificial bone, one of them got creative, and built a couple of robots out of LEGO.

Department of Engineering lecturer Michelle Oyen is leading a team that is looking at ways of creating bone in the lab, primarily for use in medical implants, but possibly also as a building material – bone has a very good strength-to-weight ratio. Their current bone-making process involves taking a base object (such as a bolt), dipping it in a dish of calcium and protein, rinsing it with water, and then dipping it in a dish of phosphate and protein. This routine is repeated many times, for each sample.

Given how boring it would be for a lab technician to have to do that for hours at a time, Mechanical Engineering PhD student Daniel Strange proceeded to construct two bolt-dipping robots out of off-the-shelf LEGO MINDSTORMS pieces. The robots now work throughout the night, to produce bits of artificial bone that are ready by the next morning.

MINDSTORMS is quite definitely not the LEGO that many of us might remember from our childhoods. According to Strange, he used the NXT-G graphical programming language that comes with the kit, for programming his robots. The product also includes multiples sensors, servo motors, and is Bluetooth-capable. When I was a kid, I thought it was pretty good that my LEGO included wheels.

More details on the Cambridge robots are available in the video below, which was produced to inspire entrants in the Google Science Fair 2012 contest – the LEGO company is a partner in the competition.

Source: YouTube

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Legos the coolest toy on the market.


I was given Meccano to play with as a child. Perhaps I need to up-skill and learn LEGO too.


In a structural sense, IF the body were rigid enough and glued up, then the only thing to improve upon is the bearings and motors....

Pop in really decent sealed bearings, high quality motors and decent drive systems and you could have them running non stop for years.

There is every reason to use Lego to make durable little robots from.

Mr Stiffy

LEGOs: They're not just for kids anymore!

Larry Hooten

Another step on the way to constructing entire bodies, like in "The Fifth Element".

Gregg Eshelman

Which is correct as the plural of LEGO: 'Lego' or 'Legos'? Neither, actually. The word 'LEGO', when used as a noun, should only refer to the company that makes the product. Otherwise 'LEGO' is supposed to be used as an adjective. Thus, when referring to the pieces, neither 'lego' nor 'legos' is correct... rather one should say: 'LEGO bricks' or 'LEGO pieces' or whatever (using LEGO as an adjective -- and one should really capitalize all of the letters, and put the little 'circle-R' symbol after it (®)). This is all a matter of protecting the trademark of 'LEGO' for the company (using it otherwise degenerates the strength of the trademark). This is not to say that I use the word correctly 100% of the time... but that's the answer to the question (it's always fun/painful to read the near-flame-wars that start at over this topic... and generally, both sides are wrong).


Mike Karthäuser

certainly a bone of contention as to whether this method will work effectively.


Was her last statement a "dis" to the "creativity" of the M.Eng PhD candidate? I.E. If science is to move forward its through creativity not the "tools" used to get there. In science, its all about the need for "tools" and the subsequent application of them that spawns the forward-moving creativity. Was not his creative design ("a tool") a basic step in moving science forward, freeing manpower to focus on less mind-numbing tasks and more on the "creative" side? I do think it was a bit of a pompous "dis" of his small bit of "creative work," that made a time, money and morale saving contribution to the forwarding of their scientific work.


Hi. We are developing elements for building LEGO robots. They are fully LEGO-compatible but more stable, more durable and made of stronger materials. This allows for longer use, bigger load, and higher precision. Just perfect for small industial robots like those. The project is in its initial phase so please have a look and tell us what you think.

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